Story Behind Image

Cabbage White on Lace by Todd Henson

A female Cabbage White butterfly backlit on white lace curtains.

Sometimes you don’t even have to leave the house to photograph wild creatures. They just have a way of getting inside, so why not take advantage of this?

I was visiting my folks house and saw the cat moving around the front bay window. I didn’t think much of it until later when I noticed a little Cabbage White butterfly resting on the lace curtains well above the reach of the cat. The butterfly had seen better days. Perhaps the cat had done some damage, or perhaps it was just nearing the end of its life.

I happened to have my 105 mm macro lens with me so that’s what I used. I cranked the ISO up to 1000 since it was a little dark inside. It was afternoon and the sun was behind the house. The light shining through the window was not direct sun, but it was still fairly bright compared to inside the house.

Macro lenses can naturally give a very shallow depth of field when focusing up close. So I wanted to stop down the aperture to let me capture the entire butterfly in focus. However, I was hand-holding the camera so I couldn’t let the shutter speed drop too much or I’d get a blurry photograph. In the end I settled on an aperture of f/8 and a shutter speed of 1/160 second. This let me expose for the butterfly, letting the background go bright without blowing out any details.

My goal was to create a nice high-key image with the light-colored butterfly standing against a glowing bright white background. I wanted it to feel soft but still have the butterfly in focus. I’m happy with how it turned out. Even if I never do anything more with the photograph than post it here, it was great practice. I pictured how I’d like the image to look then worked on finding the settings that would get me there. I encourage you to practice in the same way.

When I finished photographing the butterfly I gently captured it and let it go outside. Perhaps I shouldn’t have done this, as I later learned Cabbage Whites are not native to this area and are considered a garden pest for the damage done by their caterpillars, and this did appear to be a female based on the number of spots on its wings. Oh well, native or not, it’s still fun observing and photographing these beautiful little creatures.

Rocky Mountain Sunset by Todd Henson

Rocky Mountain Sunset. The setting sun turns the Rocky Mountains into dark silhouettes engulfed in a soft orange glow.

Every so often you’re presented with a scene that leaves you speechless in its beauty. So you grab the camera and attempt to capture some of the magic playing out in front of you. A still image, even a video, can rarely fully capture such a personal experience, but we can still try to create something that will evoke some of what we see, of what we feel, hoping it will move others, even if not in the same ways it moved us.

Dreaming of Denver. I dream of Denver, facing west, watching the setting sun set the sky afire, rays of soft filtered light rippling over the silhouetted peaks of the Rocky Mountains. It brings warmth even on the coldest of nights.

Such was my experience one evening during a short trip to Denver, Colorado, many years ago. It was not a photography trip, but I did have my camera with me. I returned to my hotel room close to sunset and saw the sky lighting up outside my window. It was incredible, the colors and the light rays through the clouds, how they created silhouettes of the mountains. I wiped the window clean, put the lens to the window, and began creating images, trying to find which portions of the skyline seemed most compelling. There was so much to see, and the light was changing so quickly, I couldn’t capture it all. But in the end I was pleased with some of the images I did create.

Technical Talk

At first I tried using a wide angle lens to capture as much of the scene as I could. But this just pushed the mountains further into the distance, making them look smaller than I saw them. The mountains were such a strong element to what I was seeing I wanted to focus on them. So I switched to a telephoto lens to get in closer to the mountains, to capture the light playing through the clouds and over their peaks. These photos were shot between 190 - 200 mm.

The aperture didn’t matter much as everything was at such a distance depth of field wasn’t an issue. I chose f/9. Raising the ISO to 320 let me use a shutter speed of 1/320 second. I was hand holding the camera so I wanted a fast enough shutter speed to reduce the risk of camera shake introducing blur. 1/320 second seemed appropriate for a 200 mm lens on a crop sensor.

I was fortunate to have a room off the ground floor. I don’t recall exactly what floor, but it was the 3rd or 4th. This gave me enough height to look out on the mountains without anything distracting in the foreground. I did choose to include a small bit of foreground at the bottom of each image. I like the way this helped frame the scene, and how the setting sun created a rim light as it shone behind the foreground elements.

I hope this helps remind you there can be subjects worth photographing almost anywhere, even in your own hotel room.

Both of these photographs are available for purchase through my online store, run by Fine Art America / Pixels. You can find them under the titles, Dreaming of Denver and Rocky Mountain Sunset.

Dreaming of Denver

Dreaming of Denver

Rocky Mountain Sunset

Rocky Mountain Sunset

Elegance of a Long-tailed Duck by Todd Henson

Elegance of a Long-tailed Duck

In early April of 2019 I had the immense pleasure of spending an entire day photographing a Long-tailed Duck that had departed from its typical migratory route to spend its days diving for food in a small lake in Meadowlark Botanical Gardens, located in Northern Virginia. I’ve written about this duck previously in On a Golden Pond, Reflecting on a Long-tailed Duck, and The Art of a Diving Duck.

Today’s image does a great job showing off the duck’s namesake long tail. I really like the pose the duck gave me, how it turned its head just slightly, looking my way, as if it were a professional model posing for the camera. Very elegant, I thought. And the water droplets show it had just recently been underwater, and was just briefly pausing up top before diving below again. Can’t get much better than that.

This photograph was created just before 5 PM with the sun behind me and having just drifted below the trees in the background. This helped provide a nice soft light on the lake and the duck. I wasn’t directly at water level, but I did have the camera and tripod down low, to photograph the bird as close to its eye level as possible. This helps us better connect with the subject and often looks much better than standing up tall and looking down at something. Give this technique a try some time. Get down to your subject’s eye level and create photographs from their perspective. See what you think of the results.

If you like this photograph please consider stopping by the shop. In addition to wall art, you can purchase greeting cards, throw pillows, and a number of other products for around the house or as gifts.